The thing about squid is you either cook it very quickly or very slowly: any other elapse of time during the cooking and you get the rubbery result that has, wrongly, put so many people off this fabulous mollusk. When properly cooked it is either meltingly tender or retains a very slight bite: there should be nothing of a thick rubber band about squid at all!
I buy my squid from the Kirkwall Bay Shellfish Company; friendly, knowledgeable people operating from a shed in the food park on the Hatston Industrial Estate. They are the only people that I have yet met who sell monkfish filleted off the bone, which is apparently how many of their customers prefer to cook it. But I digress – it is squid that I am writing about today. These were caught off Westray, which seems to be where much of Orkney’s fish comes from, and they looked fantastic. Always such fun to show in a demonstration with the moment of pulling the quill from the tube guaranteed to be a first for someone in the audience, my first two large squid came completely cleaned but with their lovely tentacles to add texture to my dishes. One squid was a feast for two people, so we had two lovely meals from our ‘catch’.
First up was a version of Salt and pepper squid, with a few chilli flakes for good measure. The flesh was cut into batons which were then coated in milk – cream works better but I didn’t have any – before being tossed in medium beremeal with plenty of seasoning. The tentacles were sliced across and prepared in the same way. I then cooked the squid very quickly, in small batches, in a wok in a little coconut oil, draining each lot on crumpled kitchen towels. Squid is cooked as soon as it becomes opaque: have courage – whip it out of the pan at that stage. Keeping it warm in a low oven I then very quickly wilted some baby spinach in the oil and juices left in the wok to make a bed on which to serve the squid, sprinkled with cracked black pepper and flakes of sea salt, and just a few chilli flakes. Serve with a dollop of mayo if you will but, if the squid has been cooked quickly, it will be moist enough without.
The remaining squid made a delicious ‘store-cupboard’ risotto, enhanced by glorious yellow saffron and bringing more than a touch of sunshine to our dining table. I cut the squid into rings and then the larger ones were cut again, in half, for easier eating. With Spanish cuisine in mind – they tend to opt for onions or garlic and seldom both – I unusually opted for the latter (with my whisky tasting hat on I try to keep my palette fresh and therefore usually avoid garlic these days). I know risotto is Italian but I find the onion/garlic idea a good one to follow for Mediterranean cookery in general! After heating a large frying pan and adding olive oil I drew it off the heat before adding the finely chopped garlic: that’s the top tip for stopping it from burning if there is no onion in the pan. I then added the squid and cooked both over a low heat until the mollusk was opaque before adding the risotto rice with a good pinch of saffron. Once the rice was well coated in oiliness it was just a case of adding boiling water (no stock was available and no extra flavour required) and cooking until the risotto was almost ready: you need tender rice which retains just a bite in the centre. At that stage I added some defrosted (frozen) peas with a little salt and pepper. Once the risotto was of the cooked consistency that we prefer – some like risotto dry while others prefer it almost souplike – I added some grated Parmesan and then finished the seasoning. Then a little more Parmesan on top and the feast began.
Once again Orkney’s rich larder provided me with a fabulous main ingredient for two very different dishes. Living here is a constant culinary inspiration.